French Open 2021: Djokovic, Federer and defending champion Nadal in same half

Play starts Sunday, and it won’t be an easy run into the deep stages for any of the Big Three – as they all look to improve upon their respective Grand Slam singles title tallies.

High stakes: It doesn’t get any easier

Federer in Paris two years ago, where he reached the semi-finals for the first time since 2012
The way this year’s draw has shaken out, as announced on the tournament’s social channels yesterday, means no more than one of them can reach the final on June 13.

Last year’s rescheduled edition, which took place after the US Open in October, saw Nadal claim his 13th Slam on clay with a straight-sets win over Djokovic.

That was the Spaniard’s 20th Slam title, putting him level with Roger Federer for the most all-time. Djokovic, who triumphed in Melbourne at the start of the year, has 18.

If Nadal-Djokovic were to match up again, it would come at the semi-final stage. That means the draw’s other half could feature a surprise or too on the way to this year’s finale.

Federer made a fleeting return earlier this year after two right knee surgeries and it’s unlikely the Swiss legend will embark on a deep run over the coming fortnight given his distinct lack of match sharpness.

The possible quarter-finals on the other side of the draw, are particularly intriguing.

Daniil Medvedev’s struggles acclimatising to clay are well-documented, while the Australian Open finalist had his stint shortened after a positive COVID-19 test.

Nonetheless, if this year proves his first to break the cycle of frustration in Paris, he’ll likely meet Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals. In a repeat of last year’s US Open Final, first-time Slam winner Dominic Thiem could duel against an unpredictable Alexander Zverev in the same round.

Thiem, twice a beaten finalist in Paris, has endured somewhat of a frustrating season so far but will hope to peak at the right time here.

What about the women? Will Swiatek retain? Serena’s sneaky draw

Swiatek as she served in a match earlier this month, winning another warm-up event in Rome
With all of that in mind, Nadal and Iga Swiatek are still favourites to defend their respective Grand Slam championships here.

Slam record-chasing Serena Williams has a sneakily difficult draw awaiting her as the American could face the likes of Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova and either Victoria Azarenka or Aryna Sabalenka by the quarters.

She was leading in the semis against Azarenka before a calf injury derailed her hopes of US Open glory last year, while Sabalenka pushed her hard in Melbourne.

Ash Barty could face Elina Svitolina, Naomi Osaka vs. Bianca Andreesscu and a rematch of last year’s final may await Iga Swiatek against a determined Sofia Kenin after her struggles of late.

First though, Kenin has to navigate past hurdles which include an intriguing R1 clash against Jelena Ostapenko – winner in Paris four years ago.

Swiatek faces Slovenian youngster Kaja Juvan, who knocked the aforementioned Kerber out in the first-round last year.

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